Go set a watchman by Harper Lee. Harper, 2015. 978-0-06-240985-0
There was a lot of hoopla surrounding the publication of this book. It was billed as a “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird but since it was actually written before TKAM, I see it as more of an alternative version of Scout’s story. It is a good book but not a great one. I can see why Lee’s editors suggested she rewrite it by focusing on the scenes that take place in Scout’s youth. Those sections of the book were better written and less didactic than the main story, which takes place when Scout is 26 years old.
This is a book that was written in the 50’s and it shows. There are some jarring moments that are uncomfortable for a 21st century reader that probably wouldn’t have seemed so out of place to a mid-20th century reader. The assumption that African Americans (“Negroes” in 1950’s terminology) are backwards and were not ready to take their place beside white citizens is appalling today; at the time of the book’s writing, probably not so much.
The clunkiest moments in the book are when Scout is arguing with Atticus, Henry, and her Uncle Frank about politics. These sections feel like Lee is bludgeoning the reader to make her point, rather than subtly showing, as she did in TKAM.
All in all, GSAW is a flawed but very readable book. TKAM, however, is a modern classic. Had Lee published GSAW when it was written, we would probably not remember her today. Thankfully, she listened to her editors and reworked the story into a novel that is loved and taught across the country half a century after it was published.